When we think about the head of a Christian denomination, we often imagine an aura of importance bestowed by the mantle of leadership. Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung will have none of that; instead, he sees himself as someone who has been put into his leadership position to serve.
So down to earth is he that, outside of his office, one would never guess that the unassuming, amiable elder who blends well into any heartland neighbourhood leads the Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS)—a Christian community of some 46,000 members across 46 churches.
A life called
Bishop Dr Chong was born in 1955 in Indonesia. During a politically turbulent period there in the 1960s, his family moved to Singapore. His father regularly took him and his siblings to church on Sundays and this planted the seeds of his Christian faith, which grew rapidly.
“During my youth, I served enthusiastically in church, immersing myself in ministries such as youth fellowship, worship, and Sunday school. I found myself spending long hours in church, to the point where I sometimes stayed there overnight! Dedicating such a large portion of my time to church activities eventually shaped my decision to become a full-time evangelist,” recalls Bishop Dr Chong.
His desire to spread the good news and minister to as many as possible continued into university, when he joined the campus Christian fellowship and participated actively in its outreach team. He recounts: “The close camaraderie with Christian brothers and sisters provided me plenty of opportunities to develop and hone the skills required for church ministry work, especially that of leadership.”
These leadership skills proved invaluable as he served in churches, and even more so when serving as the President of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) between 2009 and 2016 and later when he took up the role of Bishop in December 2016.
“According to Methodist doctrine, there is a clear delineation between the roles of the Bishop and the President of an Annual Conference. The Bishop’s role entails not just being the defender of the Methodist faith but also as a figure of moral authority, whether within the Methodist Church or our Methodist schools. In addition, the Bishop oversees the administration of the Methodist Church, and sets the tone for doctrinal preaching and teaching,” explains Bishop Dr Chong.
He adds: “The Bishop is to lead the emphasis that MCS places on both local and overseas missionary work. These include evangelistic activities, Christian education in the Methodist schools, social welfare and community activities. He is also the face of MCS in its dealings with the government and other official agencies, as well as in building friendships with other religious groups.”
Working tirelessly for the Lord
Despite a punishing schedule, Bishop Dr Chong labours cheerfully and tirelessly for God, driven by his passion for the gospel and the expansion of His Kingdom.
When he assumed office two years ago, a key priority was the unity of the Church as expressed in the MCS motto “Together as one in spirit and purpose”, with her three Annual Conferences maintaining a united front in tackling issues such as missions, social action and education, among others.
“In my first year of office, arising from a petition we received, I set up a task force to look into the current structure of MCS. Representatives from the three Annual Conferences, as well as pastors, were tasked to study how we could best operate as a single Methodist Church. We want to make more efficient use of shared resources and to revitalise local churches and ministries under the MCS umbrella. The task force meets regularly to study the matter with great zeal,” says Bishop Dr Chong.
The Bishop’s average day at the office sees him going through and approving various official correspondences, meeting minutes and records as well as overseeing the decisions made by the General Conference Executive Committee.
He chairs various councils and conferences and also sits on the boards of several national church organisations, such as Trinity Theological College and the National Council of Churches in Singapore. And this does not include his numerous overseas trips to interact with the wider Methodist community in the region.
Do not be surprised if you see the Bishop at different churches in the three Annual Conferences on Sundays. What is most meaningful for him and a core reason for his going into full-time ministry many years ago is being able to worship in church services, preach, and preside over the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism.
“I look forward to preaching, whether at Sunday services or at special gatherings,” he says, “for this allows church leaders and various congregations to get to know me better. It is my hope that having better rapport with local congregations will make it easier for me to rally our fellow Methodists to support new ideas or suggestions that benefit our community.”
He has been actively making his rounds also to learn more about thechurches’ history and to get to know their founding members. “I am full of respect and gratitude for these church pioneers. I want to affirm all their contributions and labours in the Lord. It is important that the current generation of church leaders and parishioners treasure the rich heritage of our churches and value our traditions and liturgies. This will be instrumental in our efforts to develop a more unified Methodist family.”
An eye on the changing landscape
At a time when the worldwide Church is facing an onslaught of negative influences and open challenges to its relevance, MCS is not without battles to fight. Bishop Dr Chong keeps a watchful eye on Singapore’s social landscape.
“The main challenge that the Methodist Church faces today—in particular, within the context of Singapore—is the rapid pace of change,” reveals Bishop Dr Chong. It is imperative to give special attention to the problems of an ageing population and the growing divide between the rich and the poor.
He added that the Methodist Church also has to look outside of Singapore and closely monitor influences that go against the teachings of the Bible. “The most urgent and critical task is to strengthen Christian families to ensure they are grounded with spiritual values that are aligned with the Bible. We also need to look hard at the discipleship of our youths, and make sure their faith has a firm foundation.”
Now in the second year of his four-year term, Bishop Dr Chong frequently thinks about his successor.
“I believe that the Bishop must be someone who possesses desirable leadership qualities as well as a servant heart. He must be able to fully commit himself to the duties and responsibilities required of this role. I believe we have many such individuals among us and pray that they will avail themselves to the task when called.”
Jason Woo is Methodist Message’s Editorial Executive. When not working on the latest articles, he enjoys long jogs and cuddling up with his cats along with a good book.
Photos courtesy of Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung